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Amendment May 22, 2014: After writing this article I learned it is not entirely correct to say that Purely Obsessional OCD sufferers display no compulsions. While it is true that there are not many observable rituals, they are still performed but are mainly cognitive in nature and not overt.
I want to target this article at OCD sufferers in particular. I’ve read a few stories of people sharing their experiences of OCD but few truly delve into how dark it can be.
Even in my own sharing I skirt around the more difficult to discuss topics. This is understandable. It is very hard to speak about and I am often afraid of what people might think if I reveal the full picture.
In a nutshell, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is characterised by intrusive or unwanted thoughts (obsessions) that lead to ritualised behaviours (compulsions) that are performed in order to relieve the anxiety.
For many sufferers, these rituals relieve anxiety temporarily but the person gets stuck in a loop, unable to stop the ritual until he feels he has adequately addressed the issue.
(you can read more about OCD here.)
I was diagnosed with what some call “Pure O” – Purely Obsessional OCD. This means I have intrusive and unwanted thoughts, the obsessional worry side of OCD, but not the compulsions*. I don’t perform rituals or tasks to relieve my anxiety. However, even without compulsions, “Pure O” is no stroll in the park.
This is where it gets hard to share.
OCD runs in “themes” – these can range from contamination (fear of germs), worrying about family safety, worrying whether the house is locked and even violent or sexual fears.
These can include fears of doing something violent or acting out sexually in an inappropriate way, doing or saying something that one might find morally wrong, and often also includes religious fears.
The bitter irony of OCD is the people who get these fears are usually the type of people who would never dream of doing the things their OCD brings to mind. It is very unlikely they would ever act out any of their fears (in fact, a “healthy” person is more likely to than an OCD sufferer!).
Not all OCD sufferers experience all of these symptoms.
Some may never experience violent intrusive thoughts, while others, like me, don’t worry about the door being locked or my family’s safety (obviously I do when there is cause for it!).
Unfortunately for me, “Pure O” tends to lend itself toward the more extreme intrusive thoughts.
The hardest thing for me, and I believe for many Pure O sufferers, is viewing the intrusive thoughts as separate to myself; seeing them as not me (and they are not) and knowing they are a result of my disorder and are not a reflection of my character at all.
My psychiatrist told me a mantra she tells people to use is: “It’s not me, it’s my OCD.”
If I let myself worry about my intrusive thoughts, it can lead to a downward spiral of crippling fear and anxiety and painful amounts of self-doubt.
It is very difficult sometimes to stay positive about it all, to envision myself in a place where I don’t have to worry about suddenly getting intrusive thoughts when I am with my friends or family or wherever I may be.
The strange thing about OCD is a year ago, I was “in control” of it. After my OCD was triggered again when I was in London, suddenly I am afraid that I’ve been this way all along. It’s difficult to rationalise if I recovered before as I did from my 2008 OCD experience, I can recover again. It’s difficult because when you are “in it” – it can seem so dark and hopeless.
But it is not.
I read a quote recently by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (bless you) which I found quite beautiful.
“There is strong shadow where there is much light.”
You, me, us – the OCD sufferers of the world are so much more than our fears.
We have so much to offer. Think of all your talents and gifts and how you’d like to use them. Think of the love you have for those who are closest to you and their love for you.
Aren’t you so much more valuable than a few silly thoughts in your brain? Thoughts you didn’t ask for.
You are still here and that means you are more courageous than you think.
It is hard. It is hard to really convince yourself you are more than your fears but trust me, you are. I made a pact with myself awhile ago. I told myself I don’t care how bad I think I am, or what thoughts may intrude, or what my OCD might make me think, I will always give myself the benefit of the doubt. I must.
Over time, when my OCD symptoms struck and the “what ifs” began to swarm my head telling me, what if you are bad, what if you are capable of awful things, I’d say to myself, “Give yourself the benefit of the doubt, dude” and move on. And it works.
For the first time in a long time, I have begun to feel a lot more centred in myself, more tethered to who I am and who I know myself to be.
To get technical, overcoming OCD is a combination of medication and “recalibrating” your thought patterns. The less you feed the monster, the less strength it has.
If you are reading this and you are struggling with intrusive thoughts you are not alone and you are so much more than your fears.
Sebastian is learning life by living it. Born in Zimbabwe, High Schooled in Zambia, and living in Cape Town, he isn’t really sure what to say when people ask, “Where are you from?” Seb went to Film School in Cape Town and has worked as a video editor for the last four years. He has battled with anxiety his whole life and has been through two severe episodes, experiencing intrusive thoughts and depression. He is on the road of recovery and has found that peace and a life free of fear is possible.
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